An outside law firm will review five years’ worth of complaints alleging discriminatory practice, use of force, deadly force or neglect at the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office.
The review is to be conducted by Marietta-based firm Wade, Bradley, and Campbell, and came at Sheriff Neil Warren’s request, according to a news release.
At least 48 inmates have died under Warren’s custody since he became sheriff in 2003, including seven since December 2018. Some of the families of those who have died in the past two years have attributed their deaths to inadequate care.
Partner Nathan Wade represented Warren in April when sheriff’s candidate Jimmy Herndon filed a complaint alleging Warren had not, as required by law, notarized certain documents when qualifying for the race. Herndon ultimately withdrew that complaint. Warren’s fourth term as sheriff is set to expire this year; he is seeking reelection.
Wade said he had represented the sheriff after being contacted by former law school classmate and Chief Deputy Sonya Allen, as the county attorney is barred from handling such cases.
Wade said his firm has conducted similar work on behalf of the Cobb NAACP and would not be compensated for this investigation, which it was doing as a public service.
“It came as a shock when the sheriff decided, ‘You know what? I don’t want this perception that I’m doing something wrong. I’m willing to open my doors, my files,” Wade said. “I doubt that there’s nothing in there to find. He knows we have a reputation of being very aggressive advocates in the community.”
Warren said in the release he had long thought about asking for the review but was compelled to move forward after attending a prayer-driven protest at Marietta’s Zion Baptist Church on Saturday.
“I have watched the news of late like everyone else and I believe that the public should feel at ease with how the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office conducts itself,” he said in the release.
During the protest, Zion Pastor Eric Beckham cited conditions at the jail as a local issue of relevance to people protesting racism and police brutality. Such protests have swept the nation after the May 25 death of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.
“Some of our own church members are crying out about the horrid, horrid conditions of mistreatment at the Cobb County Detention Center,” Beckham said Saturday as Warren, whose office runs the detention center, stood behind him. “Am I supposed to listen to them and believe, or are we supposed to be in denial and turn away with deaf ears? ... The SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) has brought in the ACLU. Why is there still no investigation?”
The firm will look at allegations made in the last five years.
“I want to know in my own mind that we have done all we could do to treat those in our custody as humanely and respectfully as possible,” Warren said. “I believe that this firm will help us to potentially find areas for improvement and I will also expect them to take part in any future formal disciplinary hearings that involve these issues to be sure that Cobb citizens are being looked after and protected. This new process will begin immediately and I expect periodic updates to me and my command staff.”